We are not obligated to finish the work;
neither are we free to desist from it. (Pirkei
I can’t believe it was six years ago when I began my service to the Congregation on the Board, then as Chair of the Board of Governors for two years and as President for three. Throughout this time, I have been proud to work with my colleagues on the Board and its committees who shared similar concerns about the future of Beth Tzedec. Our common beliefs in the need to be faithful to our tradition while welcoming change, and our collective embrace of the need to innovate, have allowed us to become an engaging, enriching destination for Jewish life, with new relevance to the interests of Jews of various ages and stages.
Throughout my time serving as Chair of the Board, with Norman Kahn as President, and then as President myself, working closely with both Blake Teichman and Dena Libman in the role of Chair, we have emphasized that our objectives were to: (1) more fully engage the members of our community in the life of our shul; and (2) improve the operations of our Synagogue to ensure it would function as efficiently and fairly as possible. We have taken key steps toward accomplishing these objectives. I am proud that our successes in reinvigorating our shul programs and operations include minimizing the financial deficits we had faced for several years. I hope that future Boards will continue these efforts with sustained success.
A key focus for us this past year was to move the Renovation Project forward. With the help of my co-chair on that committee, Stephen Kauffman, we advanced our drawings and plans and began informal discussions with our City Councillor and the City Planning Department. In February, we held Town Hall meetings to present the drawings and proposed expansion areas to the membership, and we are now working to complete our submission in the hope that the expansion areas might be approved before substantial funds are spent on detailed designs for these areas. We have also created an Architect Selection Subcommittee to screen a selected group of suitable architects and ultimately make a recommendation to the Board. That process will continue into the summer.
In the meantime, our perennial challenge of maintaining our aging building and its antiquated systems continues to place constraints on our ability to reduce operating expenditures. This year, monies collected from the Capital Levy have been applied to: (1) fixing the complicated boiler system that provides heat to our building; (2) completing the upgrade and replacement of our fire alarm system; and (3) constructing the new access ramp. We also gave the Hendeles Chapel a much needed facelift, which was funded, in part, from the proceeds of last year’s Men’s Club Golf Classic. Our House Committee, under the leadership of Bob Cohen and in collaboration with our Property Manager, Brian Dias, and his staff, deserves a great deal of thanks for the time they spend caring for our physical building.
Our building’s ongoing physical deterioration has led the Board to decide to replace the ten year Capital Levy (whose last year was 2013/14) with an annual contribution to a new Building Reserve Fund. The percentage applied at each membership contribution level (10 or 20%) will remain unchanged. The Board believes that continuing to collect these funds is critical to enabling us to meet the
inevitable ongoing needs to replace outdated operating systems and aging structural elements, like the 12 banks of 60-foot high windows in our Sanctuary and the roof that is leaking over the Orenstein Mezzanine Hall (just two examples of the issues that our staff and House Committee are currently working to address). Monies collected under the new Building Reserve Fund will be kept separate from our general operating funds, as the Capital Levy dollars were, to be used only for capital improvements, including repairs to our physical plant, and renovations.
We focused this year on planning for our future. We struck a Rabbinic Search Committee for a new Senior Rabbi, chaired by Norman Kahn and Dena Libman. Looking toward a significant date in 2015, we created a 60th Anniversary Committee to be led by Paul Rothstein and Marvin Miller. And most recently, we launched a committee, chaired by Sharon Bacal, charged with creating a new service option for the High Holy Days, with the goal of appealing to our members who are in their 20s to 30s. Please keep an eye out in the future editions of the Beth Tzedec Bulletin and The Week Ahead e-newsletters for opportunities to contribute as members’ input is sought by these committees. I am happy to advise that, in the next couple of weeks, you will finally be able to subscribe to the specific Beth Tzedec communications you wish to receive and to pay your membership contributions online, through new enhancements to our website, thanks to the efforts of our Communications Committee led by Debbie Rothstein and Ted Zittell.
We continued to strengthen our strategic and community partnerships this year. With the support of the WOW! funding received last year from UJA Federation, we mounted our first Jewish Service Network trip to New Jersey to help with Hurricane Sandy clean-up, and we launched improvements to our Congregational School curriculum. Daniel Silverman and Randy Spiegel also began our participation in Project ReFrame, under the leadership of the Jewish Theological Seminary, working with JTS and four other U.S. synagogues with congregational schools, to increase and improve the quality of experiential informal educational programming we offer. And a number of Board members and committee chairs were excited to participate, along with four other local shuls, in a new program for synagogue leaders put on by the fabulous Shalom Hartman Institute called “Creating a Values Based Community”.
Highlights of this past year, for me personally, include experiencing the inspirational and thought-provoking Centennial conference of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in Baltimore last fall, which I attended along with our Board Chair, Dena Libman. I was also privileged to participate in the selection of next year’s Shinshinim along with an energized group of synagogue leaders and professional educators from across the Greater Toronto Jewish community, (including our own Aily Leibtag and Rav Adam Cutler), led by our partners at UJA’s Israel Engagement Committee. I was also thrilled to celebrate the B’nei Mitzvah of my twin nephews in the Little Minyan at the end of March—a wonderful and very special family experience.
The past five years have been exceptionally meaningful and fulfilling, and for that I must thank many people. I so appreciate the hard work and commitment of our klei kodesh: our senior rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Rabbi Adam Cutler, Cantor Simon Spiro, Cantor Sidney Ezer, and our Ritual Director, Lorne Hanick. I especially wish to thank Rabbi Frydman-Kohl for his collaboration and partnership, and the respect and kindness he has consistently shown me.
I have enjoyed working with our Executive Director, Randy Spiegel, over the past three years. His commitment to Beth Tzedec is evident in the endless hours he devotes to our shul and our members. We have often continued our work together (via email) late into the night. I truly appreciate his efforts to help Beth Tzedec evolve and improve. I thank our office staff with whom I’ve worked closely on almost a daily basis, especially before Randy’s arrival, when they helped keep things moving forward; and, in particular, Terri Humphries with whom I’ve enjoyed a wonderful working relationship over the past five years. I am delighted that Terri recently assumed the role of Communications Coordinator, developing all of our communications materials with the talented support of Jason Pivovitsch, our gifted designer.
My colleagues on the Executive Committee, whom I only met five years ago, have become close supportive friends and valued collaborators. I am so grateful to each of them: Dena Libman, Ted Zittell, Norman Kahn, Geoff Brockman, Debbie Rothstein, Peter Weinstein and Alan Sless, as well as Blake Teichman and Sheldon Rotman and the others who served with me on the Executive in the past. I thank each of them for their candour, friendship, hard work and thoughtful insights. My deep thanks as well, to the entire Board, for their generous commitments of time and energy to the governance of Synagogue.
I truly appreciate the respectful way in which the Board of Governors has functioned over the past several years. Some decisions were easier than others, but even for the most difficult and important issues we faced, vigorous discussion and respectful debate usually resulted in the Board being able to reach productive consensus.
Our Synagogue could not function without the commitment and devotion shown by our committee chairs, committee members, and all the volunteers who have helped to plan and implement, and have attended, so many of the activities and programs at Beth Tzedec and to create and revisit the policies that guide our operations. And I thank all of the donors and sponsors who contributed to our fundraising efforts in so many ways and without whom many of our programs and events would not be possible.
It has been a privilege to serve Beth Tzedec, as an elected Governor, as Chair and as your President. My thanks go out to each of you, our members, for your confidence and support. In just a few days, I will transition to my new role as Immediate Past President—a role that my husband, Eliot, relishes, and one that confuses my sons Zachary and Dylan who can’t really remember when I wasn’t involved in the Synagogue on a day-to-day basis. As we read in Pirkei Avot, “We are not obligated to finish the work; neither are we free to desist from it.” And there is much more work to do. I offer my congratulations and commitment to the new Executive Committee and the Board of Governors. I look forward to supporting them, as they supported me. Together with you, we will continue to build Beth Tzedec as a vibrant, relevant, successful Community Destination for Jewish Living for all of us, and for generations.